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The Port Authority Bus Terminal and Our Glaring Lack of Transit Leadership

This plan, known as Concept 3, was supported by the Port Authority's bus terminal working group but not endorsed by the full board of commissioners today. Image: Port Authority

This proposal, known as Concept 3, was supported by the Port Authority’s bus terminal working group but not endorsed by the full board of commissioners today. Image: Port Authority

The effort to replace the aging and overcrowded Port Authority Bus Terminal continues to suffer from the New York region’s inability to coordinate its transit mega-projects.

The bus terminal already handles more than 225,000 passengers per weekday and cannot accommodate all the bus traffic that crosses the Hudson in Midtown. Demand is expected to increase about 50 percent by 2040, but there is no plan in place to build a new terminal.

A working group of four Port Authority commissioners has been considering five concepts to replace the bus terminal with a modern facility that can handle many more passengers. Today they recommended a plan to the full board, but the full board didn’t endorse the working group’s proposal, putting off a vote until a later date, pending further study.

The almost-recommended-plan, known as Concept 3, would move the bus terminal one block west. It appealed to the working group for a variety of reasons, including the fact that unlike the other four options, the Port Authority would not have to build a temporary terminal to handle passengers while the new terminal is under construction.

“It doesn’t require an alternate facility and the complete disruption of the passenger experience for a decade,” said Commissioner Kenneth Lipper. “It’s less expensive, and it opens up billions of dollars in real estate.” Selling off development rights could help finance the project, which has been estimated to cost as much as $10.5 billion.

But moving the bus terminal west poses serious problems, due in part to the mistakes of past projects.

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Cuomo Signs Bill Allowing NYC to Expand Bus Lane Camera Program

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Saturday that will speed up bus trips by expanding the number of bus lanes where the city can deploy camera enforcement. The law now enables New York City to use cameras to keep car drivers out of exclusive bus lanes on up to 16 routes, an increase from just six today.

34th Street before cameras were added. Video still: Robin Urban Smith/Streetfilms

34th Street before cameras were added. Video still: Robin Urban Smith/Streetfilms

Under the bill, which passed the Senate and the Assembly in June, the city can choose the 10 additional bus routes that will receive camera enforcement. That’s a change from the state legislation that first authorized bus lane cameras in 2010, which spelled out which routes could get cameras.

The city and the MTA have expanded Select Bus Service — the enhanced routes that usually include dedicated transit lanes — beyond the limitations of the previous bus lane camera legislation. As a result, bus lanes on Webster Avenue operate without camera enforcement. Absent this new legislation, planned bus lanes on Utica Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard, and along the Q44 in Flushing and Jamaica would have also gone without cameras.

The new legislation allows the city to install cameras on non-SBS bus lanes, like on Fifth Avenue and Fulton Street, as well. It also enables the city to operate the cameras on weekends, but continues to limit camera enforcement to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., when most bus lanes are in effect. The fine would stay at $115.

While the law is a very basic step to ensure the city’s bus lanes can operate as intended, there was some doubt as to whether Governor Cuomo would go along with a de Blasio administration legislative priority. In a statement, however, the governor enthusiastically endorsed the bus lane camera expansion.

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Governors Want Feds to Pay for Half of Hudson Tunnel; They’ll Split the Rest

Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York sent a letter to President Barack Obama today with an offer: If the federal government picks up half the tab of building a new $20 billion Hudson River rail tunnel, the two states will split the rest [PDF].

It’s a step forward in negotiations as the governors try to secure grants from the federal government, which so far has only offered low-interest loans for the project. Ultimately, the Republican-controlled Congress must sign off on any federal funds for the rail tunnel.

The governors are also asking for expedited planning and environmental approvals, similar to how the Obama administration fast-tracked the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement.

In the letter, Christie and Cuomo peg the total cost of a rail tunnel at $20 billion. Numbers thrown around by agencies and officials have ranged from $14 billion to $25 billion, depending on the source and whether it includes related projects, like adding additional tracks from the tunnel to Newark.

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Bike Racks Debut on Buses Across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

New Yorkers are finally getting to try out a multi-modal transportation option that’s old hat to residents of other major American cities — bike racks on buses. Sunday marked the debut of front-mounted bike racks on the S53 and S93 buses across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

One of the first bikes to cross the Verrazano Narrows by bus. Photo: Meredith Sladek

One of the first bikes to cross the Verrazano-Narrows by bus. Photo: Meredith Sladek

The MTA purchased 38 bike racks at a cost of $42,000 and installed them on 31 buses as part of a one-year pilot program. The agency will evaluate three different models: Byk-Rak 2 Position, Sportworks Veloporter 2, and Sportworks DL2. If successful, the MTA may expand the program, starting with other bus routes across bridges.

The racks have carried bikes on 12 trips so far, including two this morning, the MTA said.

Streetsblog reader Meredith Sladek used the racks on a Sunday trip to Bay Ridge from Staten Island. It was a cinch, even for a newbie, she says.

“I have never used a bus rack before — hard to believe but true — and it took me about five seconds, tops. The instructions were printed on the rack itself,” she wrote in an email. “The drivers were great ambassadors: Both were really genial, helpful, patient, and informative.”

The MTA has also released an instructional video on how to use the racks. Sadly, it does not feature lyrics by Mr. Theo — but Stephen Colbert’s smiling face does make an appearance.

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MTA: Bike Racks Are Coming to Buses Over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

As of September 6, New York will no longer be the only major American city without bike racks on its buses. The MTA announced this afternoon that it is launching a one-year pilot of front-mounted bike racks on the S53 and S93 routes, which run across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

“Before this program, our customers had no direct way to travel with their bicycles on public transportation between Brooklyn and Staten Island. Now customers can take advantage of the city’s bike lanes and greenways without worrying about how to transport their bicycles,” Darryl C. Irick, Senior Vice President of Buses at MTA New York City Transit, said in a press release. “A future expansion will depend on results of this pilot and will most likely focus on routes that cross bridges.”

Adding bike racks on buses has been a goal of advocates who view it as a stepping stone to building a bicycle and pedestrian path on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Update 9:55 p.m.: “We are certain Bike & Ride will be a success, just as similar programs have been in cities all over the country that have long had bike racks as standard equipment across their vehicular fleets,” said the Harbor Ring, a coalition of path advocates, in a statement. “However, one bus carrying two bicycles is by no means a solution for our city’s overwhelming transportation deficiencies. We continue our campaign urging the MTA to create separated bicycle and pedestrian pathways across the Verrazano Bridge that would offer toll-free connectivity between Brooklyn and Staten Island.”

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Will the Governor Who Never Rides the Bus Sign NYC’s Bus Lane Camera Bill?

Governor Andrew Cuomo definitely hasn’t taken an MTA bus “since he first assumed office in 2011,” Gothamist reported yesterday, and it’s probably been much longer than that. So will the governor who never rides the bus sign the bill to expand camera enforcement of New York City’s growing bus lane network?

Cuomo gets off a bus in Havana. Photo: Governor's Office/Flickr

Cuomo gets off a bus… in Havana. Photo: Governor’s Office/Flickr

“If Governor Cuomo actually rode the bus like the two million New Yorkers who do it daily, he’d see how much we need improved bus service,” Nick Sifuentes of the Riders Alliance told Gothamist.

Specifically, if Cuomo saw first-hand what the millions of daily NYC bus passengers put up with, he might warm to the bill to expand bus lane cameras, which has awaited his signature since it passed the legislature two months ago.

The bill would bring automated bus lane enforcement to 10 additional bus routes, on top of the six already approved by Albany. Keeping double-parked drivers and shortcut-seekers out of the red bus lanes will make trips faster for transit riders.

The performance boost is sorely needed, with bus ridership stagnating even as subway ridership has boomed.

After the legislature passed the bus lane enforcement bill in June, the Cuomo administration told Streetsblog that it is reviewing the bill. That position hasn’t changed.

Here’s a photo-op proposition for Team Cuomo: Have the governor sign the bill before hopping on an MTA bus — say, along Woodhaven Boulevard, where tens of thousands of daily riders stand to benefit from the new cameras.

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Eyes on the Street: West 125th Street Gets Its Bus Lanes

It’s showtime for West Harlem bus lanes. Photo: Stephen Miller

It’s finally happening. More than a year after bus lanes were installed on 125th Street east of Lenox Avenue, the first signs have appeared that DOT will soon be painting red bus-only lanes in West Harlem.

The first round of camera-enforced bus lanes, from Lenox to Second Avenue, have helped speed local buses on 125th Street between 7 and 20 percent, according to DOT and MTA. The M60 Select Bus Service, for which riders pay before boarding instead of swiping onboard the bus, is running 32 to 34 percent faster. Meanwhile, buses on sections of 125th Street without the bus lanes have either slowed slightly or not seen any change in speed.

Speedier buses are set to come to West Harlem after the lanes are extended from Lenox Avenue to Morningside Avenue. DOT said in April that the bus lanes would be installed this summer, and the first paint markings are now popping up. DOT says the work will be completed this fall, weather permitting. The bus lanes will eventually be accompanied by transit signal priority, which keeps transit riders from getting stuck at red lights.

It’s been a long road to getting bus lanes on 125th Street. First suggested after advocacy by WE ACT for Environmental Justice over three years ago, DOT and MTA began working with local community members on the plan in late 2012. Facing opposition from community boards and local elected officials, the Select Bus Service proposal was shelved less than a year later before being revived, in abbreviated form covering only central and East Harlem, in late 2013.

Since then, West Harlem elected officials have repeatedly called on DOT to extend the bus lanes to their neighborhood. It looks like West Harlem bus riders are finally getting their wish.

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Cuomo and Christie Play Chicken With Trans-Hudson Train Commuters

It’s been almost five years since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed the ARC tunnel. Things haven’t improved since.

The existing two-track rail tunnel, already at capacity, has continued to shoulder growing ridership comprised mostly of NJ Transit commuters. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy added a dose of corrosive salt water to the century-old tunnels. Amtrak warns that one or both of the tubes must shut down in the next couple decades, forcing trains going both directions to share a single track. Commuters got a taste of this nightmare scenario just weeks ago when high-voltage power cables in the tunnel failed, cutting service to and from Penn Station.

Moving those commuters onto buses is unlikely. Like the rail tunnel, the Port Authority Bus Terminal is both falling apart and at capacity. Replacing and expanding that facility would cost up to $11 billion — a number the Port Authority is struggling to come to terms with.

Amtrak’s plan for a new tunnel, known as Gateway, has stalled without backing from Christie or his New York counterpart, Governor Andrew Cuomo. This morning, Senator Charles Schumer of New York pushed the governors to take the first of many necessary steps to getting the project built. Schumer wants a new partnership, which he’s dubbed the Gateway Development Corporation, to build the tunnel.

The partnership, comprised of Amtrak, the Port Authority, the MTA, and the two states, would be able to access a wide range of funding sources. “Amtrak can’t access federal mass transit funding. The Port Authority and regional transit agencies can’t access federal railroad dollars the way Amtrak can,” Schumer said, reported the Observer. “We’ll only get Gateway done by adding up several pieces of financing, with an eye toward getting the maximum amount possible from the federal government.”

Neither governor has yet agreed to the partnership. Last month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx asked the governors to meet with him about the Gateway project, but the two executives want cash from the feds, not just loans, before they’ll commit to anything.

In fact, the governors — neither of whom hesitates to spend big on highways and airports — have tried to portray the rail tunnel between their two states as somehow not their problem.

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Eyes on the Street: New Bus Lanes Arrive on Woodhaven Blvd

Photo: Toby Sheppard Bloch

Bus lanes being installed on Woodhaven Boulevard near Fleet Court. Photo: Toby Sheppard Bloch

It’s not quite Select Bus Service, but it’s a step in the right direction: A pair of long-awaited bus lanes are rolling out on Woodhaven Boulevard.

Offset bus lanes, installed to the left of curbside parking, are being added to both sides of Woodhaven between Dry Harbor Road and Metropolitan Avenue, covering about 1.3 miles [PDF]. Streetsblog reader and Queens Community Board 5 member Toby Sheppard Bloch sent in a photo of the progress. Short sections of curbside bus lanes are also being added to Woodhaven in both directions as it approaches Rockaway Boulevard.

The bus lanes, which will not affect parking regulations along Woodhaven, will be in effect Monday through Friday from 7 to 10 a.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. Due to restrictions imposed by Albany, the bus lanes will not be camera-enforced. A bill awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature would allow the city to install bus lane cameras on Woodhaven and other routes.

While these bus lanes overlap with the route of Select Bus Service planned for Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard, they’re really a separate project that arose from DOT’s 2008 “Congested Corridors” study. They were originally scheduled to be installed last fall; DOT blamed poor weather and a lack of available resources for the delay. Work began in mid-July, and the agency expects to wrap the project by installing overhead bus lane signage in the next couple weeks.

The full redesign of Woodhaven Boulevard for Select Bus Service will come later. That project will add pedestrian safety improvements, limited-stop service, off-board fare collection and more substantial bus lanes. DOT selected a design for that project in March, saying that construction would wrap in 2018.

While Select Bus Service continues to face opposition from some civic associations in the area, transit advocates, led by the Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives, have been building support for SBS with their #FixWoodhaven social media campaign.

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Levine and Rodriguez Press DOT to Implement West Harlem Bus Lanes ASAP

Council Member Mark Levine speaks in support of bus lanes on 125th Street in West Harlem. He was joined by Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez and advocates from Riders Alliance, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and StreetsPAC. Photo: Stephen Miller

Council Member Mark Levine calls for bus lanes on 125th Street in West Harlem. He was joined by Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez and advocates from Riders Alliance, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and StreetsPAC. Photo: Stephen Miller

Transit advocates and Upper Manhattan elected officials gathered this morning at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 125th Street to urge DOT to extend bus lanes on 125th Street to West Harlem as soon as possible.

The city installed bus lanes on 125th east of Lenox Avenue last spring, and DOT says they will be extended west to Morningside Avenue next month. Given the contentious history of the project, however, local electeds who support the bus lanes don’t want to take any chances. Earlier this month, Council Member Mark Levine and State Senator Adriano Espaillat sent a letter to DOT stressing the need to follow through on the project [PDF].

While the vast majority of local residents depend on transit, not private cars, the proposal for West Harlem bus lanes continues to draw fire at community board meetings — particularly CB 10, where the chair has complained about bus lanes slowing down her cab rides and transportation committee meetings are often filibustered by bus lane opponents.

“Look, the politics of this are always complicated. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be fighting over it,” Levine said this morning. “There’s still a very entrenched car culture in this city, and for years the car has been king. And that’s how we made policy.”

Levine is worried that further delay could push the bus lane project into next year. “We’re going to keep the pressure on every day until the work is completed,” he said. “That’s my commitment.”

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